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MONDAYS WITH PATMEI | Easter changed the status of women

My favorite story about Easter, the Christian celebration of the resurrection of Jesus, is the story of how women were the first witnesses.

That is a very big deal because during that time, women were not regarded as reliable witnesses. In fact, first-century Roman society and Judaism did not permit women to testify in court. In the time of Jesus, a woman’s testimony was inadmissible in court.

Belief in the resurrection of Jesus is central to the Christian faith. So if Jesus chose to appear first to women it could only mean that Jesus was teaching another valuable lesson in his resurrection — we must believe women.

In the Easter story, God gave the best assignment to a woman. A woman, Mary Magdalene, was the star witness, the first person to share the good news that “Christ is risen.” And the key role was not given to just any woman but to a woman with a bad reputation. Think about that for a moment.

Essayist and playwright Norman Allen captured it wonderfully in his essay entitled “At the Heart of Easter Sunday is a Woman.” He wrote: “It’s a woman who rises early and walks through darkness to visit the tomb. It’s a woman who stays to mourn, unafraid of her grief. And it’s this particular woman, shunned by society, who is first called by the risen Jesus.”

The women stayed with Jesus through the crucifixion as well. While the disciples hid after Jesus’ arrest and Peter denied his association with Jesus, the women were there — standing their ground; accompanying Jesus as he carried his cross and endured the torture with him; and then taking care of what needs to be done for his burial.

Women traditionally carried out the burial rituals during that time. In most of recorded history all over the world, women have been entrusted with the care of bodies. Women give birth, feed, nourish, care, carry, wash, clean, heal, comfort, and bury — from womb to tomb.

Yet, ironically, women’s own bodies have been objectified, sexualized, demeaned, dismissed, controlled, policed, and judged throughout history up to this very day.

In her essay entitled “The Women of Easter” published on the Daily Guardian, Mary Barby P. Badayos-Jover wrote: “The focus on women at the most crucial times of Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection was not unusual in light of how he endeavored to elevate women’s status throughout his ministry. The gospels talk of how Jesus interacted with women, even those deemed unworthy by society at that time.”

She noted: “What is sad and pathetic is the fact that the patriarchy that Jesus himself tried to counter in his public life is still alive today and wreaking havoc on women’s lives as they aspire for greater responsibilities or be on equal footing with men.”

Women have been consistent throughout history. Despite being marginalized and belittled, they continue to do what needs to be done to make lives better for others. Despite the challenges the patriarchal culture have put on their paths, women sacrifice their lives to be there for the world, ever present to care and to love, and to do what nobody is willing to do.

In times of great disasters and violent conflicts, women are also the first witnesses and the first responders. Women are the peacemakers and peacebuilders who quietly lead the reconstruction and recovery efforts in their communities. Their stories do not make the news on television and in print and they remain largely invisible in recorded history. But they are always there when important events happen with important roles. They just get excluded in the narrative later.

According to the authors of “All We’re Meant to Be: Biblical Feminism for Today,” Letha Dawson Scanzoni and Nancy A. Hardesty: “Jesus came on earth not primarily as male but as a person. He treated women not primarily as females but as human beings.”

They noted that disciples can be both male and female. And Jesus perceived women not in terms of their sex, age, or marital status, but in terms of their relation to God.

Jesus questioned and changed the status quo and raised the status of women in society during his life and ministry. He recognized the intrinsic equality of men and women in how he treated them and in the teachings he preached.

Following Christ means including women and treating them with the same respect and dignity that Jesus showed them.

As affirmed by James A. Borland, Professor Emeritus of the New Testament and Theology at Liberty University, Virginia: “Jesus valued women’s fellowship, prayers, service, financial support, testimony, and witness. He honored women, taught women, and ministered to women in thoughtful ways…As a result, women responded warmly to Jesus’ ministry.”

It has been said that the stories we tell determine the change we can achieve. Humans think in terms of narratives. Stories have a powerful impact on what we believe and how we behave. Stories move us to act. And that is why Jesus taught by telling stories, speaking in parables.

God included women in the most important Christian story — the resurrection of Jesus. I believe Easter this year coincides with the last day of Women’s Month to remind us that we need to change our view and treatment of women just like Jesus taught us.


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